PREP BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Bearcats headed to 6th straight Final 4 after 9-3 win at Hazel Green

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Cooper Beck's 2-run shot in the top of the seventh gave Cullman a 9-2 lead going into the final frame at Hazel Green on Friday. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

HAZEL GREEN, Ala. – For the sixth straight season, the Cullman Bearcats are headed to the final four of the AHSAA state playoffs. After splitting Thursday night’s matchups against the Trojans, the Bearcats knocked off Hazel Green 9-3 on Friday to punch their ticket to the semi-finals. Peyton Colvard was a problem for the Trojans’ pitching staff in game three. The senior right hander finished the game 3-for-3 at the plate with two home runs and five RBIs and set the tone right out of the gate with a grand slam in the top of the first inning.

Colvard took advantage of a hanging breaking ball to give the ‘Cats a 4-0 lead in the opening frame and got the pitch that he was looking for on his second bomb of the day.

“The first one was a curve ball up and the bases were loaded so I was just trying to get one out there and get at least one run in,” Colvard said. “On the second one, I was just looking for a ball up and I got it. Luckily I lifted it and barely got it over.”

Colvard wasn’t satisfied with his performance in game two of the series but did a lot of damage offensively in game three, starting with his grand slam in the first, to help push the Bearcats into the semi-finals.

“I just knew that today I wanted to step up and play better to give my team a chance to win,” Colvard said. “It’s definitely nice to get a big lead right off the bat and it makes it easier to play and takes a little weight off your shoulders, especially in a game like this.”

After taking a 4-0 lead in the top half of the first, Dylon Wallace took the mound and held the powerful Trojans offense scoreless for the first three innings. Cullman took a 5-0 lead in the fourth when Ben Hollis brought Cooper Beck in to score with a sacrifice bunt, but Hazel Green got the run back with a solo home run in their half of the fourth to make it a 5-1 game.

Cullman’s Dylon Wallace (1). (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

An RBI single from Beck put the Bearcats back up by five in the top of the fifth but a sacrifice fly from the Trojans in the bottom of the fifth cut the lead to 6-2 going into the sixth. Colvard struck again in the top half of the sixth, putting a solo shot over the center field fence to make it a 7-2 game.

Brennen Norton worked through a scoreless bottom of the sixth on the mound and Beck put the game away in the top half of the seventh. The senior second baseman put a 2-run homer over the center field fence to put the ‘Cats on top 9-2 and Norton collected the final three outs in the bottom of the seventh to send Cullman to the final four.

Cullman’s Brennen Norton (8). (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

Wallace got the win on the mound for the Bearcats after tossing 5.1 innings and allowing just two runs on six hits and Norton pitched the final 1.2 innings, allowing one run on three hits, to seal the deal. Beck finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate with three RBIs and Hollis drove in a run for Cullman as well. Nicholas Braswell and Niklas Fondren each added two hits in the win.

Head coach Brent Patterson is excited to be back in the semi-finals and he’s really happy to get there by beating what he believes is one of the best teams in the state. Patterson narrowed it down to two big factors when he reflected on his team’s success so far this season, a brutal schedule, and a lot of time on the road.  

“For them to go out and hold a team like this down the way we did for three games shows you how much they’ve grown up. I think two things played a huge factor and one is the strength of our schedule and having almost no cupcakes,” Patterson said. “It was really rough early in the year and of course we lost a few but over time when you’ve been in a lot of games against quality competition, you don’t get fooled into thinking that what you’re doing is ok. You get exposed.”

“Then number two is playing this year on the road. It creates a little bit of an edge and it’s not uncomfortable to play on the road,” Patterson continued. “So, as bad as I want to play every game at home in friendly confines on our new field, it is so important that we go into hostile environments and play great competition because of this right here. Those two things kind of seasoned us to be able to knock off who has been the best team in Alabama once they got healthy with just an incredible group of seniors and coaches. To be able to knock them off, I’m almost speechless. I’m not going to understate it; this was a huge win.”

Colvard’s performance at the plate was the obvious standout in game three and Patterson was proud to see him bounce back in such a big way after taking the loss on the mound in game two. Patterson has seen Colvard and the rest of the team grow into a unit that plays together and is always ready to play the next pitch.

“It was huge for us and for him. For him to respond after the night he had last night, we don’t feel this way, but he feels like he let us down on the mound, which he did not, but he didn’t get it done and he wanted to get it done. Last night he was wearing it, and it was heavy, but if you get caught on the baseball rollercoaster, it’ll kill you,” Patterson said. “It’s a marathon, and he showed up again and he put yesterday behind him and just to watch these guys grow up and watch them mature as players and people, that’s what the reward is for us.”

Cullman will travel to face the winner of the Gardendale v. Hueytown series next week for a chance to go back to Montgomery and play for a blue map.

Cullman baseball after its 9-3 win over Hazel Green. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

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